Monday, April 14, 2008

Question: Pecans or Nanaimo Bars?

I'm not really sure if today is Pecan Day. It appears, I may have missed Pecan Day back in March. Apparently, Pecan Day is celebrated as the day George Washington planted pecans at his Mount Vernon home. It is said, they were given to him by Thomas Jefferson. I do know, however, that April is National Pecan Month. Something else I don't know (and there's mucho things:) is anything about a sweet three layer bar called a Nanaimo Bar.

There I was, pecan cookbook in hand, all ready to share a few recipes and tidbits about the history of pecans in America, when, as I was skimming through the cookbook, I came across a recipe for Nanaimo Bars. There they were, not physically of course, on page 108 of The Pecan Cookbook published for the Adams Pecan Company in Alabama (1999 ed.) Hmmm...I thought to myself. "This recipe looks unique" and, it has a funny mark on the page. Perhaps, the former owner is leaving me a message. Let me take a look. Oh, why don't I just share it with you now so we can "see" it together. (there are more Nanaimo Bar recipe links in the resource section below)

Nanaimo Bars
1 c. butter
2-1/4 c. powdered sugar
1/4 c. unsweetened cocoa
1 large egg
1-3/4 c. graham cracker crumbs
1 c. sweetened flaked dried coconut
1/2 c. chopped pecans
2 tbs. milk
1 tbs. vanilla
3 oz. unsweetened chocolate
In a 2-3 quart pan, combine 6 tbs. butter, 1/4 cup sugar, and cocoa. Stir over low heat until butter melts. Off heat, beat in egg, mix in crumbs, coconut and pecans. Press mixture in bottom of an 8 inch square pan. Bake in 350 degree oven until slightly darker, about 20 minutes. Let cool.
Icing: Beat 1/2 cup butter with remaining sugar, milk, and vanilla until fluffy. Spread over crust. In a bowl, combine 2 tablespoons butter and chocolate; set bowl in hot water. Stir often until chocolate is smooth; spread over filling. Cover and chill 1 hour or up to 2 days. Cut into 25 squares.

If you notice, the recipe calls for 1/2 chopped pecans and, it calls for baking in the oven. Interesting. Why? Well, it appears that the Nanaimo Bar not only has a history, it's legendary! and not baked! According to wikipedia,

The Nanaimo bar is a dessert of Canadian origin popular across North America. A type of chocolate no-bake square, it receives its name from the city of Nanaimo, British Columbia. It consists of a crumb-based layer, topped by a layer of light custard or vanilla butter icing, which is covered in soft chocolate. Many varieties are possible by using different types of crumb, flavours of custard or icing (e.g. mint, peanut butter), and types of chocolate. Two popular variations on the traditional Nanaimo bar involve mint flavoured custard or mocha flavoured custard.

The Nanaimo Bar Legend

Confession time. I don't usually eat candy. Oh alright, I do indulge in a Reese's every now and again. Normally, I don't eat candy. But wait, is this a candy bar or a cake bar? I suppose, that's the bad thing about "flat" pictures. From the way I view it, they could be either. Unless, someone out there tells me, I may never know:( Oh silly me, I'll just give the recipe a whirl and try them for myself. It seems that Nanaimo Bar flavors are only limited by the imagination. The legendary bars were created by Joyce Hardcastle in response to a recipe contest, oh how utterly classic...do I hear National Nanaimo Day coming in the near future. Hey! It's one of Canada's National Dishes already.

According to local legend about 35 years ago, a Nanaimo housewife entered her recipe for chocolate squares in a magazine contest. In a burst of civic pride, she chose to dub the entry not "Daphne's Delights" or "Mary's Munchies", but "Nanaimo Bars". The entry won a prize, thereby publishing the town as much as her cooking. Some American tourists claim sovereignty over the dessert, referred to as "New York Slice" which is sold in many other places in the world. Nanaimo residents refuse to accept this theory, however, believing that once you set foot on Vancouver Island, there are no other places in the world. The official Nanaimo Bar recipe was available as a handout as well as on quality tea towel and apron souvenirs. source

The legend of the Nanaimo Bar is studded with questions. Some say the recipe dates back to Chocolate Refrigerator Cakes of the 1930s. Others claim the recipe was created in New York about the same time period as the "New York Slice." We can't ignore the "romance" layered within this treasured sweet. Locals from Nanaimo, the namesake city, say it goes back to the coal-mining days of early Nanaimo, when it was sent to the miners from their friends and relatives in the United Kingdom as a gift. Regardless of where the recipe came from, today, the city of Nanaimo takes their bars very seriously (the city's mascot 'Nanaimo Barney' is shaped like a giant Nanaimo bar) I suppose the best way to celebrate the Nanaimo Bar on National Pecan Day is to substitute pecans in the no bake version of the bar which by the way also freezes quite well. (links below)


Up until about 10 years ago, I lived on Long Island pretty much my whole life. (we moved out here when I was around five) I'll be darned if I have ever seen a pecan tree growing naturally anywhere here, or else where in New York for that matter. What happened to all those pecan trees I wonder? According to the "I Love Pecan Society," pecans were first planted in these United States on Long Island in 1772. I'm guessing by "planting" the website is referring to actual cultivation. If pecans are indigenous to the US, why would the first recorded planting be stated as such? I'm going to have to a little further research into this matter (and the "real" pecan day date) because, quite frankly, something doesn't make sense to me. Now, not to say these "facts" aren't true, I'm sure the "I Love Pecan Society" has done their research. Newsday, which is Long Island's local newspaper, did an extensive history on everything Long Island and no where in that history does it mention anything about pecans. As a matter of fact, Peggy Katalinich in her book Foods of Long Island has no mention of pecans residing on Long Island. Granted, her recipe book tends to lean on the side of Long Island's vast fishing supply (which has been greatly depleted since the publication of her book in 1985) but no pecans. So, what I have decided to do today is provide some links for visitors to delve into the history of pecans. Be prepared to go on quite a journey. I'm also providing a few recipes for those who would rather just create and forsake the history for now.

The history of pecans can be traced back to the 16th century. The only major tree nut that grows naturally in North America, the pecan is considered one of the most valuable North American nut species. The name "pecan" is a Native American word of Algonquin origin that was used to describe all nuts requiring a stone to crack. source

Pecan Month Recipes

The first recipe I would like to share is from 1902. It has been harvested from a newspaper like booklet titled The Cooking Club. On page 19, there is a paragraph titled Some Sandwiches by L.W.M. The introduction:

For one who has a daily lunch to put up, the subject of sandwiches is of perennial interest. The variety is bewildering and new kinds are being brought to notice continually, most of them good, some of them delicious.

Mixed within various samples of ham sandwiches, boiled tongue sandwiches, egg sandwiches, and cheese sandwiches there are nut sandwiches. I kid you not. This is 1902 remember.

Recently nuts have come well to the fore of fillers. English walnuts or peanuts chopped no to finely, and mixed in a thick, salted, cold cream sauce, make one of the best, being particularly nice made of entire wheat bread. Chopped nuts and chopped celery is a new combination. Season with salt only; must be eaten soon after preparing

There are two "novelty" sandwiches included as the newest recipes. I am providing both, although, the second sandwich is for the purpose of Pecan Day, I thought they were both interesting enough to include.

Nut Sandwich Recipes
Recipe #1
Chop together one cupful of seedless raisins, one cupful of English walnuts, one half cupful of grated cocoanut, two tablespoons of grated chocolate and mix well together. Moisten with a little cream and spread on whole wheat bread.
Recipe #2
Slice marshmallows thinly, or flour your scissors and snip them in small bits and spread them thickly on slices of very thinly cut white bread, lightly buttered. Now strew these with chopped pecan meats. They will taste like more be assured. The sweet sandwiches for afternoons at home should be cut in fancy shapes.

Below you will find a few gleanings from The Pecan Cookbook. If you click on the scanned recipes, you will find recipes for Cowboy Cookies & Pam's Pecan Cookies.

In the 1530's, years before the arrival of European settlers, American Indians were harvesting pecans. Nomadic Indians spread pecans up and down the Mississippi River. These Indians also had regular campsites where they planted pecan seedlings trees for their children. An early Spanish explorer write "Pecans are the subsistence of the people for two months in the year without any other thing." The pecan is the most popular nut tree native to the United States. It is a species of hickory and belongs to the same plant family as walnuts. In 1774, George Washington maintained a large pecan orchard in Mount Vernon. "Mississippi nuts" were said to have been his favorite snack. He had friends from as far as florida to visit his orchard and carry seedlings back South...George Washington was not the only President who loved pecans. Thomas Jefferson made pecans a demanded delicacy in the White House during his term...In the Southeastern United States the pecan tree is called the "tax tree" because pecan trees planted around the house will provide extra income during the fall and help pay property taxes...George Washington was know to always carry a handful of pecans in his pocket for munching...

1. National Pecan Month
2. Pecan Day Quiz
3. Nanaimo Bars @ Cookie Madness
4. Nanaimo Bar Recipes
5. Nanaimo Bar Recipes @ Joyofbaking.com
6. Nanaimo Bars w/Banana Pudding Ice Cream
7. Pecans-The True Blue-Blooded Americans Great for pecan info & recipes
8. Pecan History & Fun Facts
9. Gluten Free Nanaimo Bars @ Rosa's Yummy Yums


  1. Ah, the famous Nanaimo Bar! I have actually made these. About a year ago I "traded" national cuisines with my Canadian friend Jill. Among the foods on the menu I had to make was the Nanaimo bar. They are revered in Canada and often served as holiday fare. I also learned that singer Diana Krall hailed from the same town. It I recall, the recipe I made was technically a "no bake" version. They are incredibly sweet, but SOOO addictive!

  2. Hi T.W.

    Thank you so much for visiting.

    My curiosity has gotten the better of me when it comes to this sweet delight. Thanks for letting me know how addictive they are, I MUST resist!!!!!


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